By Alison Auld, The Canadian Press
HALIFAX — She was young and dreamed of wearing the RCMP’s signature red uniform, like the Mounties who patrolled her rural Nova Scotia community.
But for the woman, now in her 50s and declining to use her name, she says that dream turned sour from the start when she went to a medical office in Halifax in the late ’80s for a required physical exam as part of her application process.
She says the doctor — an RCMP employee — had her undress and put on only a gown that was open at the back, and asked her to bend over and touch her toes while he stood behind her. Alone in the room with him, she says he told her to lay down on the examination table and he inserted his fingers into her vagina. She alleges he then put his fingers into her rectum after asking her to lay on her side.
“I didn’t know any better then and I thought this was what the RCMP wanted him to do, but he violated me,” she said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“I wasn’t going to complain because it was the last thing I had to do before getting into the force and I didn’t want to rock the boat.”
The woman, who was accepted into the force but is now retired, is one of more than 60 men and women to file complaints with Halifax Regional Police over allegations the doctor sexually assaulted them at the RCMP health services office.
Halifax police Const. Carol McIsaac said the number of complaints is “very fluid” and continues to climb, with investigators still in the information-gathering phase.
Toronto police are also probing sexual assault allegations against a second retired RCMP doctor who used to practise in the Mounties’ Ontario division. As of earlier this week, they had logged more than 20 complaints against him.
Reached at his home Wednesday, the Halifax doctor declined to comment. He has not been named by police and has not been charged with any offences. He has said previously that he was working as a doctor for the RCMP at the time and handled some administrative tasks as well.
RCMP spokesman Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer said in an email that such exams — known as occupational health evaluations — are done to ensure recruits are able to work as police officers and “safely undertake the physical and psychological demands of training.”
He said it includes a clinical history, physical exam and testing of any medical conditions and corresponding limitations and restrictions. The physical exam includes checks on vital signs, head, ears, nose and throat, along with the respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems, among other things.
“Rectal examination as well as breast and gynecological/Pap test examinations are not routinely performed as part of the RCMP regular member applicant health assessment,” he said in the email.
The RCMP has said the alleged victims were either applicants looking to join the force or serving members who were receiving treatment by the physician between 1981 and 2003.
The woman said she had erased the incident from her memory and never spoke about it. That changed last week when she saw a news report outlining the police investigation into the matter.
“It was just like a bomb went off and I was like, ‘I remember him and what he did to me,’” she said, adding that she came forward and filed her complaint earlier this week because she wants the doctor to account for his alleged abuse of power.
“He needs to realize that what he did to each and every one of us can’t happen.”
The RCMP’s commanding officer in Nova Scotia, Assistant Commissioner Brian Brennan, has said the potential scope of the investigation is very large because hundreds of women applied for the police force over the 23-year period in question and received medical exams from the doctor.
Lawyer David Klein, whose firm is one of two representing female RCMP employees in a sexual harassment class action, said several clients had informed him the Halifax physician was nicknamed “Dr. Fingers.” He said several clients told him the doctor gave them unneeded rectal exams, inserted his fingers into their vaginas without good reason and spent unusually long periods rubbing their breasts with his hands.
Another lawyer handling the class-action claimants, Megan McPhee, said women have come forward with similar stories about sexual misconduct during medical examinations by RCMP physicians in Nova Scotia and Ontario. She said the complainants don’t believe there was any medical necessity to some of the examinations, including allegations of women having a prostate exam or having their breasts fondled for lengthy periods of time.
The allegations mirror widespread complaints about sexual harassment in the force that led the federal court to approve a landmark settlement last May. The deadline for the uncapped class action settlement is Feb. 8, and reportedly includes thousands of people.